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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

We’ve updated our Trading Card Game art gallery to feature nine new pieces.

 Each image is taken directly from the official World of Warcraft Trading Card Game. Be sure to give a shout-out to your favorite pieces in the comments.


Coffee With the Devs - Number Of Abilities

Coffee With the Devs’ is a blog series that provides an inside look into the thoughts and discussions happening within the World of Warcraft development team. In our first entry, Lead Systems Designer Greg "Ghostctrawler" Street laid down a few ground rules:
 
  1. No promises.
  2. Don’t read too much between the lines.
  3. No whining about the choice of topics we cover.

How Big Is Your Spellbook?

How many abilities should a max-level class have? This is something I ponder at least once a day and is a regular topic in nearly all of our class design meetings. Even if you pick a magic number, how many of those should be core rotational abilities versus abilities that are used rarely?

Each class has a lot of spells and abilities -- the hunter has over 60, including the various forms of tracking. Despite our pruning abilities for many classes, there are still probably too many overall. In vanilla, most classes had one ability they used much of the time for damage or healing. Other abilities were situational or, to be honest, not used at all. In more recent expansions, we’ve tried to develop actual rotations for all 30 talent trees so that you’re hitting more than one button most of the time.

When we talk about class “rotations” we’re just using that term as shorthand for the abilities you tend to use often, as opposed to situational abilities. In this context “rotations” aren’t limited just to classes who cycle through buttons A, B, and C in that order. It just means “stuff you use a lot.”

Kidney Shot is a situational ability. You wouldn’t want to use it every time it was off cooldown. Envenom is a rotational ability. You might not want to use it the moment it’s off cooldown, depending on what else is going on, but you’ll still get around to it pretty quickly. Cold Blood straddles the fence. It’s rotational in that your DPS will drop if you ignore it, but you can’t spam it because it has a cooldown. All three buttons require space on your action bar. You might scoot Kidney Shot off to the side if you’re a raiding rogue, but it probably commands a prominent hotkey if you PvP a lot.

What's the Magic Number?

There isn’t a magic number for how many rotational abilities a class needs, but we find that about four is the sweet spot. (Warning: four is not a magic number. Please don’t “helpfully” point out classes with more than four abilities as candidates for immediate design overhauls.) Elemental shaman, for example, get most of their damage from Lightning Bolt, Lava Burst, Flame Shock, and Earth Shock.

Many more abilities than four and it’s hard for us to carve off niches for them. Fewer than that, and the characters can become boring to play. We’ve tried to make it clearer about which are your rotational abilities (e.g. Overpower is for Arms warriors, not generally for Fury or Protection warriors), and we’ll try to get even better about this in the future.

We generally think of rotations as mechanics for DPS classes, but they apply to tanks as well and to a lesser extent, healers. Protection warriors use Shield Slam, Revenge, Devastate, and Heroic Strike as their single-target threat abilities. They also use Demoralizing Shout, Thunder Clap, and Shield Block, pretty much on cooldown. Given the number of situational abilities warriors also have, and that they prioritize different abilities when attacking multiple targets, you can argue that Prot warriors have too many abilities. To my mind, Demoralizing Shout is the least interesting one and the first candidate to cut. (We would have to cut the equivalent debuffs from all sources in order to prevent this from just being a warrior nerf of course.) We could also have Devastate completely replace Sunder Armor (i.e. Sunder Armor vanishes from your Spell Book) so there is no confusion about whether Sunder should ever be used again. That would help to get a few buttons off the bar.

Healers have less of a rotation, since much of what they are doing is always highly situational. However, Holy paladins do have builders and finishers, and other healers want to get their HoTs up before switching to cast-time heals, etc. All healers still have a group of core spells though. For a Holy priest healing a single target, these are Heal, Flash Heal, Greater Heal, Renew, and Holy Word: Serenity. If we gave healers a new healing spell, it would need to distinguish itself from those spells in some meaningful way, else it or one of the existing spells risks getting crowded out. Flash Heal is often the heal that risks getting crowded out most often, since so many of the healer talents give them more situational-ish emergency buttons, such as Penance and Power Word: Shield for priests.

It's Complicated

I’ve stuck with long-ish single target rotations -- the kind you’d use against a dungeon or raid boss -- for the most part, but of course it isn’t always that simple. As you’re leveling, you’re killing things very quickly, so applying long DoTs isn’t always worth the effort. A Feral druid could stealth behind every quest mob and open with Shred (or even Ravage), but for the most part it’s easier just to Mangle targets down and spend combo points on Savage Roar or possibly Ferocious Bite, since the target won’t live long enough for Rip to really do its job. These “quick kill” rotations can also come into group play where you’re dealing with adds that can’t be AE’d down for whatever reason (such as the risk of breaking CC). A Shadow priest might use Mind Spike in these scenarios rather than their full dot and Mind Flay rotation.

On the topic of AE, some specs have some fairly interesting AE rotations, such as Fire mages (Flame Orb, Flamestrike, Combustion, Living Bomb) and Survival hunters (Serpent Spread, Explosive Trap and Multi-Shot). Other specs have really simple rotations, such as channeling a targeted spell over and over. Boring. Going forward, we’re going to make more of an effort to make sure everyone has a reasonable AE rotation that at least involves more than one button. Part of the reason we don’t want groups just AE’ing down everything in dungeons that they don’t yet overgear is because we think the gameplay is less compelling. Adding a little more depth than just channeling Blizzard would encourage us to add more situations where AE is the right thing to do.

The Human Factor

Rotations are very different in PvP as well, where uninterrupted time to sit there and do max DPS is in very short supply. On the other hand, all of those situational abilities (crowd control, dispels, cooldowns etc.) are at a premium in PvP and very often have an even bigger effect on the outcome of a fight than the core abilities do. It is tempting, and to be fair sometimes appropriate, to solve class balance problems by handing out new abilities to make a particular class or talent spec more attractive to a team or at least more viable overall.

We can do this sometimes by tweaking existing abilities, but there is also a risk of “kitchen sinking” an ability. If a button does too many things, then you’re sometimes asked to say use an offensive ability for defensive utility or apply a debuff you don’t really want to mess with in order to get an ancillary benefit. We can cut down on potential confusion by giving similar or even identical abilities to multiple classes (now you only need to learn the name, icon and spell effect of one ability instead of a half-dozen), but too much of that risks class homogenization as well.

Because there are so many different scenarios (PvP, AE, quick kill, and long kill), classes end up with a lot of different rotational and situational abilities that you all are asked to manage and master. Your action bars fill up. Now add in potions and other consumables, mounts, trinkets, professions, and a potential host of macros, and your action bars get very full. Designers also feel a lot of pressure to fix neglected abilities rather than cutting them, even though pruning is often the wiser (but unpopular!) solution. An additional complication is that players expect (and rightfully so!) to gain a new ability or two whenever we increase the level cap. Very powerful situational abilities can serve this role, such as Ring of Frost, but players often react more positively when they gain a new rotational ability that changes up their second-to-second play style, like say Colossus Smash or Unleash Elements.

Too Many to Handle?

So when do we cross over from having “enough” cool abilities to “too many” cool abilities? The depth that comes from lots and lots of content can feel cool to a veteran player, but even for them, the intended role and nuance of every ability can become blurred. For the new or returning player, it just becomes incomprehensible.

A warrior who took some time off after Lich King and then came back to Cataclysm recently would have to relearn her rotation. Raging Blow? What’s that about? Yeah, it might be more interesting than just spamming Bloodthirst, Heroic Strike, and Whirlwind (even on single targets) like Fury warriors did in Icecrown Citadel, but it’s also just one more thing to learn. Even if the new rotation itself isn’t all that complicated, the fact that the design changed over time makes it feel more confusing than it really is at any one moment in time.

Also remember, that to be the best that you can be, you need to understand the abilities of every class, not just your own. Yikes. We designers have to be vigilant to keep complexity at a manageable level, not just for veterans who are active on the forums, but for returning players who want to see what changes Cataclysm brought to the game.

Remote Guild Chat is now available for Android™ mobile devices, iPhone®, and iPod touch®!

 The Remote Guild Chat feature lets you stay in touch with your guildmates wherever you go:
  • Read and contribute to your guild’s in-game chat channel in real time
  • Participate in one-on-one conversations with members of your guild
  • View the members of your guild who are currently online
For a limited time, both Android and iPhone/iPod touch users can access the Remote Guild Chat feature without a subscription to World of Warcraft Remote. This free preview is currently available on all North American, European, and Korean World of Warcraft realms.
After the free preview period ends, players will need to have a subscription to World of Warcraft Remote in order to continue using the feature. We'll announce the end of the free preview period in the near future -- keep an eye on the official World of Warcraft website for further details.
To access Remote Guild Chat, players will need to download the free World of Warcraft Remote app for Android (formerly known as the Remote Auction House app) or the free World of Warcraft Mobile Armory app iPhone and iPod touch.
To learn more about World of Warcraft Remote, which also grants you full access to the Remote Auction House, visit the World of Warcraft Remote page, or go here to subscribe.
iPhone and iPod touch are registered trademarks of Apple Inc.
Android is a trademark of Google Inc. Use of this trademark is subject to Google Permissions.


Blizzard Insider Interview with Scott Mercer

In Patch 4.1: Rise of the Zandalari, the devastation wrought by the Cataclysm drives the troll tribes of Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub into a renewed frenzy that threatens to escalate into outright war.
To get the details on this latest troll onslaught, the Blizzard Insider recently sat down with World of Warcraft Lead Encounter Designer Scott Mercer. Read on to get the details of the upcoming content patch, which will bring back the legendary raid dungeons of Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub as 5-player heroic instances.

Blizzard Insider Interview with Scott Mercer
How did Rise of the Zandalari come about?

Scott Mercer: Well, it’s always a good time for trolls! No, just kidding, there’s more to it than that. The idea first came up after the launch of 4.0 when we reintroduced 5-player versions of Shadowfang Keep and Deadmines. The classic dungeons ended up being a big hit with players, so we knew we wanted keep the momentum going by remaking more dungeons. Zul’Gurub was an obvious choice as it was a long-time player favorite, and many people were sad to see it go when Cataclysm launched. We started revamping it as soon as we could. Much later, when work on Zul’Gurub was nearing completion, we decided to add Zul’Aman to the lineup as well. The team felt Zul’Aman was one of our best raid dungeons of all time, but that it launched late in the Burning Crusade expansion cycle, so not that many players got a chance to experience it when it first came out. It was really the “hidden jewel” of Burning Crusade raiding. We’re hopeful that bringing it back as a 5-player Heroic will open it up and allow a much larger portion of the player base to try out the encounters.

Can you give us any indication of the how the major bosses and features of Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub will be updated for the patch?

Scott Mercer: Zul’Aman was ahead of its times in a lot of ways, and it actually adheres pretty closely to the encounter design philosophies we use today. For that reason, we didn’t feel the need to change the encounter mechanics too much aside from a few tweaks here and there needed to retune it for 5 players instead of 10 or 20. On the other hand, Zul’Gurub needed to change a lot to bring it in line with our current thinking on encounter design. For starters, we simplified the dungeon layout by closing off some of the wings with doors or fallen debris. This should make progression through the dungeon more streamlined and obvious. We’re also completely redoing the non-boss NPCs in the dungeon to make them easier to clear with a 5-player group. A lot of the Zul’Gurub boss lineup is changing as well, and players can even expect to see some new faces in the crowd.

Were there any specific challenges in taking a 10 or 20-player raid instance and revamping it for 5 players?

Scott Mercer: Knowing that there will only be five players at an encounter introduces some constraints that aren’t there for larger raid encounters. For example, you can’t use tank switching mechanics when you know that most 5-player groups are only going to have one tank. In the same vein, events that require a lot of crowd control aren’t going to work either; there just aren’t as many players available for crowd control as you would have in a 20-player raid. We also had to be careful to limit encounter mechanics that could potentially disrupt or lock down the healer. These kinds of mechanics tend to be much more devastating in 5-player groups, mostly because there are no other healers available to pick up the slack. Of course, I’m not saying players aren’t going to see any disruptive mechanics at all, I’m just saying we had to use them much more carefully than we would with larger raid encounters.

You discussed how several of the encounter mechanics are changing for the revamp. Can you give us any specific examples?

Scott Mercer: Sure, take Akil’Zon, the eagle boss in Zul’Aman. He used to interrupt players by launching them straight into the air, which could be devastating in a 5-player encounter if he chooses the healer or the tank, so we changed this mechanic slightly. Now his summoned eagles pick players up and try to fly off with them instead. The player that gets picked up can still act and cast normally, even while being carried away. So the group just has to make sure the eagle dies before it carries the player away. This works better, because the eagle mechanic still creates a sense of urgency without completely disrupting the targeted player.

Let’s talk phat loot! What kinds of rewards can players expect from the new versions of Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman?

Scott Mercer: The bosses drop epic quality item level 353 loot, which we hope will help players gear up for Cataclysm raiding. We also reworked the Edge of Madness event as an optional boss encounter which requires the archaeology profession to activate. At a certain point, an archaeologist can release one of four randomly chosen troll spirits, each with a unique piece of loot. We’re also releasing new versions of the special mounts that used to be found in Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub. Players who successfully complete a timed run of Zul’Aman can get the new version of the war bear. Anyone who has the old version of a mount can still get the new version. Also -- though this isn’t really part of the dungeon itself -- we’re adding a new mini-raptor pet for people who do the Stranglethorn Vale lead-in quests. Oh, and of course, Mojo the toad can still be found in Zul’Aman.

Going forward, can we expect more raid dungeons from past expansions and patches to be revamped as 5-player Heroic dungeons?

Scott Mercer: We definitely want to, but there are a few technical limitations we will have to solve first, especially with some of the older dungeons. That said, we know players like the classic dungeons and we’re open to updating just about any instance that has memorable encounters, especially if the dungeon as a whole meshes well with our current philosophy of encounter design. Several dungeons in particular keep coming up as potential candidates for 5-player Heroics. I’ve heard Scarlet Monastery and Scholomance discussed a few times. We also think it would be cool to revamp Blackrock Spire and Blackrock Depths given their obvious tie-ins for the storyline of Cataclysm. Nothing’s been ruled out yet, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see which ideas rise to the surface and we move further into Cataclysm.

The Weekly Marmot - Patch 4.1 Survival Guide

Servers are up, have fun!



On the bright side now you have more time for other stuff i have to post :D

Keep an eye on my Twitter on the left side bar for more server updates :)
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